Decades later, Winnette Bradley still remembers watching a man sign the back of his paycheck by marking it with an "X."
Mrs. Bradley, working at an adult education center in rural Burke County, was determined that he would learn to sign his name, and he did.
"It struck as, 'Wow. This is why I'm in education,' " she recalled. "For me, it makes me feel like I really am contributing to humankind like I'm supposed to."
Experiences like those in Sardis, Ga., in the mid-1970s ignited a passion that remains today.
Mrs. Bradley continues to work in education, believing that in her role as a "servant leader" she must see to it that everyone gets an education. She now serves as the Richmond County school system's director of alternative education, the first person to hold the position.
The school system is overhauling alternative education, with plans to establish a comprehensive program at the current site of Tubman Middle School in the fall. The new program will not only address children with discipline problems but also focus on the needs of adults who have dropped out and students who are at risk of dropping out.
"My mission is to get everyone a diploma," Mrs. Bradley said. "To me, it's really going to stimulate the economy here in Richmond County when we get these people graduated."
Without an education, people are unable to care for themselves and must rely on society to care for them, she said.
Mrs. Bradley hopes to prevent students from dropping out, but she also wants to go out into the community and "reclaim" those who have.
She has won the respect of many in the community, including Mary Shropshire-James, a retired Paine College professor.
"I've been an educator for 47 years, and so I'm a very good judge of character," Mrs. Shropshire-James said of Mrs. Bradley as a person and an educator. "I don't have any flaws to mention."
She has known Mrs. Bradley for nearly 30 years and even took an education class taught by her.
"She brought the course alive," she said.
Mrs. Bradley considers herself a part of black history. She was one of only two black students to participate in the state's first Governor's Honors Program. Stepping on to the campus of Wesleyan College for the program, she knew she wanted to pursue a higher education.
She attended Paine College and completed her work for a bachelor's degree, but her graduation ceremony was canceled because of the city's race riot in 1970. She witnessed civil unrest and the burning of the Paine College president in effigy.
And she began teaching in Richmond County when the school system integrated.
Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
OCCUPATION: Richmond County director of alternative education
FAMILY: Married for 41 years to Dr. John Bradley
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree from Paine College, master's degree from South Carolina State University and a specialist's degree from Georgia Southern University
QUOTE: "I don't want to see any failures in our school system. I don't want to see any dropouts without the opportunity to drop back in."